Throwing away good work

In 2012, I attended a talk at WWDC, iPhoto for iOS: UI Progression and Animation Design, that encouraged the practice of throwing away good work and to keep iterating until something great is achieved. I took that to heart and recently tossed out some really good work in favor for what I think is pretty great.

Background

Since late September, Stamp Pack has been my obsession. It started as an idea that came to me in the shower and quickly became a popular iOS 10 sticker pack. Since then, not only has it inspired numerous others to make stamp-themed sticker packs, but it has evolved into a more nuanced product. In the weeks since the initial launch, Stamp Pack has continued to lead the way in this genre by pushing the boundaries of the platform to include things like built-in search, categories, and the dynamic addition of new stamps.

What’s next?

For the last ten weeks, Heidi and I have made pretty consistent updates to Stamp Pack. Ten updates in the last 10 weeks to be exact, which does not include the dynamic content which is updated more frequently. One of the most desired features from customers is the ability to use the stamps outside of iMessages in apps like Slack, Twitter or Facebook. The most obvious way of doing this is offering a third-party keyboard app that lets you copy stamps from the keyboard and then paste them into third-party apps. So I asked Heidi to design a keyboard app.

Why a keyboard extension was the wrong choice

Heidi did an excellent job with the keyboard design, but as I thought about implementing it, I discovered some problems.

1) Keyboard extensions are required to have an accompanying iOS app.

2) Installing keyboards is not intuitive.

3) Custom keyboards are required to have alphanumeric functionality.

And it has been highly recommended that they have:

  • Appropriate layout and features based on keyboard type trait
  • Autocorrection and suggestion
  • Automatic capitalization
  • Automatic period upon double space
  • Caps lock support
  • Keycap artwork
  • Multistage input for ideographic languages

None of which Apple provides API for.

4) Custom keyboards are punished for having alphanumeric functionality.

Users are warned by Apple not to trust keyboard apps.

5) Copying keyboard content to clipboard requires additional configuration.

6) Switching between keyboards sucks.

The iOS app

Despite the great design, the keyboard experience seems fundamentally flawed. So to Heidi’s dismay, we scrapped the idea. Well, at least we scrapped the idea of a keyboard. Since the functionality we wanted could be achieved in an iOS app we just designed an app instead of a keyboard extension. The iOS app allows you to copy a stamp to the clipboard without requiring us or users to jump through hoops.

Monetization

The iOS app is separate form the sticker pack. This is because once you release an app as a sticker pack, it cannot then be made into an iOS app. Also the target market and use is a little different, so a separate app made sense. With a new product though comes the question of monetization, so again we explored the usual suspects.

Paid up front — Paid up front is my favorite model because it seems the most fair. Unfortunately, it’s not a sustainable model because over time the developer actually ends up losing money. No thanks.

Free with In-App-Purchase — This model is often called “Free to play”. Free to play is when a user gets the app for free, but to use it comfortably they have to buy some consumable items like coins or smurfberries that get used up over time. It works well for games. Not a good fit for this kind of app though.

Free with Non-Consumable IAP — This kind of IAP work a lot like paid up front, only users get to try the app out in a limited way before purchasing a fuller experience. Nothing wrong with it except just like paid up front, it’s not sustainable over time unless new purchasable content is regularly released. I don’t want to charge for stamps individually, so nope.

Free with Ads — I hate ads and I think that they’re a hustle. That said, the realities of the App Store show time and time again that this is the most sustainable model. So as much as I hate them, the iOS app is free with ads

Subscription — Subscriptions are sustainable and do involve ads which I like, but they aren’t for everyone. We’re including an annual subscription option for anyone who likes the app, but doesn’t want ads. As an added bonus to thank subscribers we are also allowing them to create their own stamps within the app.

Plug

Our final product for the standalone version of Stamp Pack, which we’re calling ‘Stamp Pack — Copy & Paste’, is one that I’m proud of. Please check it out and if you like it, use it and share it with your friends & family. If you really really like it, please become a subscriber.

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